Surf, Sand and Memory

When Richard and Mari Ann Volk were planning their final beach house, the one they would enjoy in their retirement years, they decided there was only one place to build: Stinson Beach.

For Richard, the love affair with Stinson began when he first swam in its surf during a break from college in 1955. “It reminded me of the Jersey Shore where I spent time as a boy, and Stinson Beach hasn’t changed. It’s still the small little town I saw then.”

Volk’s love affair with Mari Ann began in 1978, years after he had moved to San Francisco, where he built apartments for a living and rented homes at Stinson Beach for the summer. After they met, she moved from Newport Beach to San Francisco and became a founding broker at Sotheby’s International Realty there. Within two years, they had married on the sandy beach in front of his home in Seadrift, the private Stinson Beach neighborhood whose homes front either the ocean or the lagoon.

Their blended family—his daughter, her son and the daughter they had together—spent summer and fall months together, swimming, sunbathing, fishing and hiking the local trails. Evenings were often focused on entertaining visiting friends and family, barbecuing that day’s catch of salmon or dining with neighbors.

Beach house essentials

The new Stinson home, a 3,600-square-foot home in Seadrift defined by simple lines, varied rooflines and an intentionally low profile, reflects Mari Ann’s passion for entertaining and his insistence on building “a house that blends into the beauty of the surroundings.”

The three-bedroom house and detached guesthouse, constructed by Paul Hughes of San Anselmo and completed last year, is complemented by a wraparound deck with a glass-topped sunroom, a spa tub deck and simple landscaping that relies on bubbly fountains, antique olive jars and exotic containers potted with succulents as a low-maintenance garden.

It’s all situated on one of the largest lots on Seadrift’s oceanfront, which allowed the Volks to conform to the new Federal Emergency Management Agency standards for floodplain-level homes without sacrificing any square footage.

As with any of the other dozen homes the Volks built or renovated in Stinson over the years, they divided the design responsibilities: he drew up the exterior, the elevations and the floor plan; she worked on the interior.



Sea change

When Mari Ann died in 2003 the mission changed from completing the house with her to completing the house for her.

Volk chose Caitlin Moran, a San Francisco interior designer who had worked for Vicente Wolf in New York before opening Caitlin Moran Interiors on Union Street four years ago, for the endeavor. She had never met Mari Ann, although “Richard and I had a lot of conversations about her,” she recalls. “Richard said, ‘These are the pieces but I want you to use your talent to bring it together.’ I felt honored that he trusted me.”

Moran used the color values of sea glass—blue, green and opaline—for the palette of various rooms, but kept the great room a creamy white. She gave only one room, the chocolate-brown den, a saturated shade and painted the second master bedroom, on the guest floor, a lovely lilac. “I deferred [on] all the paint colors to her and people rave about them,” Volk says.

She placed one of Mari Ann’s favorite Oriental carpets in the entry under a large skylight and a pair of favorite Kreiss chairs in the living room along with a new custom sofa in a practical but pretty pecan-colored, chevron-patterned chenille. And because “it’s barefoot living out there,” Moran says, she chose sandy-blond jute area rugs bound in a nubby suede to lay across the great room’s walnut floors for a durable textured surface.

A wide wall of French doors in the great room facing the ocean was left undressed (“it’s all about the view!”), but other windows are draped in a Henry Calvin linen resembling a tightly woven fishermen’s net and offering both privacy and filtered light.

The clean-lined kitchen is the room that reflects Mari Ann most. “She was an outstanding entertainer and wanted a house where our family could gather,” her husband says. “I could tell her at four o’clock in the afternoon that 20 people would be here at seven and she would throw together something wonderful without batting an eye.”

The Thermador range, warming drawer, wine refrigerator, pot filler, and pewter bar sink that she specified were installed and the Sub-Zero refrigerator and double pairs of Fisher & Paykel dishwasher drawers she chose are integrated with the white-painted cabinetry she designed and had crafted by Jim Hamilton of Petaluma.

Moran picked up the blue of the vein in the white marble countertops and carried it through to the gray-blue paint of the center island, which is topped with a large slab of butcher block, set with woven chairs from Sloan Miyasato, and lit with a fixture specifically selected for the space by Mari Ann.

What makes this a great beach house “is that it’s not overly interior-designed,” muses Moran. “It’s a great place to live, to entertain and to relax. There’s an emotional response to just being there, opening the doors and hearing the waves pounding the beach.” She pauses. “I hope Mari Ann would be happy with the results.”

Image 2:  The outdoor entertaining alcove captures the oceanfront view and is protected from the wind by glass window enclosures.
Image 3:  Exterior shot taken from the beaach shows how the "house blends into the beauty of the surroundings," as Volk intended.